Coming into their 19th year of rebel rousing, the Athens, Georgia, southern rockers are the epitome of the “New South.” They are folks from below the Mason-Dixon Line that not only listened attentively to their Depression-era elders, they took their wisdom, words and warnings, and have applied all of it to carved-in-stone melodies that echo out across a country where maybe those ideals of humility, simple generosity and hard work ethics skipped a couple generations.
And throughout their career, the Truckers have continually evolved, where an initial slow burn of success and notoriety has now become a full-fledged inferno of kick-the-doors-down-and-kick-your-sorry-ass-rock-n-roll.
The Truckers will roll into The Orange Peel in Asheville on Jan. 16-17.
The Smoky Mountain News recently caught up with singer/guitarist Mike Cooley. The “Stroker Ace” himself spoke of how 2014 was a benchmark year for his band, what exactly is it he sees while onstage in the heat of a performance and why after almost 20 years together the Truckers are only getting started.
Smoky Mountain News: With the Truckers latest album “English Oceans” it was more of you being showcased. I had read you had writer’s block and the record was a creative breakthrough for you?
Mike Cooley: Kind of. That’s been my cycle always, to spend a few years coming up with enough new songs to add to a record and then tour, and then kind of get stuck. Almost every album for me has been either one of the other, either coming out of a slump with a lot of new stuff or coming into it really bummed out because I don’t have any new stuff so I pull out something older. This time around, I didn’t have anything older to pull out. (Laughs).
SMN: The band is celebrating 19 years together. There have been a lot of bands that came up with you in the beginning that aren’t here anymore, and yet you guys are. What do you think about that?
MC: That’s the nature of it — it comes and it goes. It has flown by. Patterson [Hood’s] (singer/guitarist) sister came by the other day and dropped off an old photo. Looking at that it seems like a lifetime ago, but then someone says 18, 19 or 20 years, it doesn’t seem like that long at all. I feel like we’re still getting started, that there are new beginnings and possibilities, and it’s great to feel that.
SMN: Seeing the band live these days, everyone seems so comfortable onstage, so calm.
MC: We are. When I’m saying we’re having more fun and doing more and playing better than ever, I don’t mean that as an insult to any former members. I’ve put in more effort to be better at my game, and I know Patterson has, too. We’re all in a better place.
SMN: What are you thinking when you’re up there onstage?
MC: If I’m thinking about anything, I’m forgetting words. (Laughs). I try not to think, but you can’t help letting your mind wander. Most of the time I’m staring at that red exit sign at the back of the room, that’s where my eyes always land. One night, I forgot my words because I was thinking about that red exit sign. It’s like no matter where I am, I’m looking for an exit sign. (Laughs).
SMN: What’s rock-n-roll’s place in 2015?
MC: People will always gravitate to rock music. Kids will always pick up an instrument. It has always evolved and it always will. That’s the one thing about entertainment — nobody started it and nobody’s going to end it. The first things people gathered around to watch was seeing somebody imitating something they had seen somebody else do.
SMN: What has a life playing music taught you about what it means to be a human being?
MC: You get a unique perspective because you see things, a different lens with the lifestyle you live. You see the world and the people in it very differently than if you drove the same five miles to your job and five miles back home. I have to remind myself to not get too impatient with my fellow man, because of no fault of their own they might not be able to see as big of a picture as I’m fortunate enough to see, and to also remember that it doesn’t make me more important or better, it just is different.
SMN: Music is the biggest communicator for change. How do you see the role of the Truckers in your responsibilities as an entertainer?
MC: Maybe someone with a narrow perspective can see the world at a different angle with our music. We’re not looking to charge windmills — we’re looking to plant seeds.
Want to go?
The Drive-By Truckers will perform at 9 p.m. Jan. 16-17 at The Orange Peel in Asheville. Tickets cost $25 in advance or $30 day of show.
1 Dirty Soul Revival (rock/blues) will perform at 9 p.m. Jan. 16 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.
2 A performance of the “An Appalachian Songbook: North Carolina in Word, Music and Song” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at Western Carolina University.
3 The “Robert Burns Dinner” will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 24 in the Tartan Hall at the Franklin Presbyterian Church.
4 Through the Hills (Americana/folk) will perform at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville.
5 The Get Right Band (funk/soul) will perform at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at BearWaters Brewing in Waynesville.